This album is a desert island disc. A record I would take on my flight to Saturn or want buried with me when I pass on. Every track is a thing of beauty and grace.
What follows is a remembrance from my old blog on the occasion of Jagjit’s death nearly 5 years ago.
I discovered Jagjit Singh’s music when I returned home to Allahabad for a brief visit in the winter of 1983. This was the beginning of the cassette revolution in Indian music. A revolution that shook up the music industry lock, stock and barrel and broke the iron grip of a handful of record companies who seemed to think there were only two types of music: classical and Bombay filmi songs.
I was amazed to find small shops on every corner of Allahabad’s posh Civil Lines district selling hundreds of cassette tapes of a staggering array of musical styles: devotional music (qawwali, bhajans, kirtans) salacious pop music in local dialects and a few European/American pop bands. But by far the most popular form of music was something the shop keepers crudely called, ‘ghajal’ substituting the Sanskrit ‘j’ for the Arabic ‘z’.
From one shop came two of the most mellifluous voices I’d ever heard. They drew me inside instantly. In response to my question about who the voices belonged to I was handed several cassettes. On the cover were photos of what looked like a boring middle class couple called Jagjit and Chitra Singh. I bought all four and commenced one of the deepest love affairs of my life.
Ghazals like Us Mor Se Shuru Karein Phir yeh Zindagi (Let’s Begin Life Again from That Turning), Uski Baatein Bahaar ki Baatein (His Words are the Words of Spring), Kaun Kahta Hain (Who Says So?) and especially, Woh Kaghaz ki Kashti (That Paper Boat) became the soundtrack of my inner world. I sang them to myself daily. The tapes were constantly in my Walkman and I used each ghazal to improve my Urdu vocabulary, which as a graduate student in South Asian studies was a high priority.
Without a doubt the greatest thing about Jagjit Singh was his voice. It exuded calm, assurance and safety. Like a father’s words of comfort, it delivered a totally unexpected gift–peace. This is a rare quality in a singer. Sure the arrangements and instrumentation were tasteful, never outlandish or exotic, and that added to the restful aura of their music. But above all it was Jagjit’s voice that cut through whatever stress, whatever anxiety I was feeling and gently grazed my heart.
Jagjit and Chitra were probably the most famous Indian singing act in the 1980s and 1990s. They travelled the globe and sold millions of cassettes and records. Their leading contribution to the democratisation of the Indian music scene cannot be overstated. And without them elevation of the ghazal to the status of India’s most popular musical genre (after Bollywood) would have not happened.
In the mid 1990’s Chitra stopped singing publicly after the accidental death of her son. How, we all wondered, could Jagjit carry on without her? We all loved their intimate, intuitive and absolutely in-sync way of singing. I always felt that their love lyrics were sung to each other. Jagjit just wouldn’t be the same without ethereal Chitra. But he carried on and continued to find new fans and enthral us old ones. He sang for films and in the later years experimented with some very modern studio-derived doodlings. But whatever he did he did with taste and integrity. And that warm soothing voice.
As I write I’m listening to one of my favourite J&C ghazals Manzil Na De Charagh Na De /Hosla to De (Give me not the destination nor the lamp/ Just give me courage).
Giving courage. That was the vocal legacy of the great Jagjit Singh.
01 Ham To Yun
02 Kiya Hai Pyar Jise
03 Woh Dil Hi Kya
04 Sirf Shabnamhi
05 Uski Baten Bahar ki Baten
06 Mujhse Milne Ke
07 Chale Bhi Ao
08 Kaun Kahta Hai